A Homily for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.
Last week, I mentioned that Epiphany and the Baptism of our Lord mark not only an end of Christmas but also the start of Christ’s public ministry. Jesus was born, yes, but as both the Nicene Creed and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby attest, while we might like the Christmas Jesus best, Jesus did grow up. He wasn’t always an “eight pound six ounce newborn infant.”
And so we’ve made the transition from celebrating his Incarnation at Bethlehem to his public ministry and, with it, the calling of his first disciples on the banks of the Jordan. (Next week, we’ll hear a different take on the same story and then, in the following weeks, we’ll hear of his early teaching.) It’s a familiar story, told and re-told in three of the four Gospels, but its familiarity sometimes causes our eyes to glaze over; let us attend more closely to its details, to the particular flavor Saint John imparts to his telling.
During the season of Christmas, we heard in that beautiful prologue to Saint John’s Gospel that “a man sent from God,” John the Baptist, “came as a witness to testify to the light,” and we see that in action today. Following Christ’s baptism in the Jordan (the event itself strangely absent in the Fourth Gospel), John proclaims Jesus to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” telling his followers that he saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus.
And Jesus asks these new, curious followers what they are looking for. Perhaps a bit startled, John’s followers turn to Jesus and ask, “Teacher, where are you staying.” The response is not, “Oh, over at Eliezer’s place,” or “With Benjamin and Rachel,” but rather “Come and see.” Perhaps they thought they were getting invited to dinner, or perhaps they realized that “Come and see,” was an answer to Jesus’ own question about what they’re looking for. Whether Andrew and the others realized it or not, though, that day they started following a new Lord. After just one day with him, Andrew ran to his brother Simon and said not, “We’ve found a new rabbi” (that is, a teacher) but rather, “We have found the Messiah,” (that is, the long-promised anointed one from God).
Sisters and brothers, what are you looking for? In this culture driven by fear, do you seek safety? Come and see the Truth which drives out fear. In an age full of messages that you must consume more, more, more, until all the world is depleted, do you seek contentment? Come and see the One who satisfies every desire. In a world plagued by death, do you seek a way to not only survive but truly live? Come and see the One who gives life eternal! In this sinful age full of shame and regret, to you seek mercy? Come and see the One who takes graciously away the sin of the world. Or do you simply long for a bite to eat? Come and see the Bread of Life who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty!
Come and see, beholding the Messiah, God’s Anointed, the Light of the World!
But know, dear friends, that beholding the Lamb of God will change you. You, like John the Baptist, will proclaim the forgiveness of sins. You, like Andrew, will declare, “We have found the Messiah.” Brought into the Kingdom of God, you will be sent back out into the world, inviting others to come and see.
It’s odd, isn’t it, that the early Church grew. An ancient Roman children’s textbook hints at the violent function of the imperial system: “The guilty thief is produced, is interrogated as he deserves; he is tortured…, and he denies. He is to be punished; he is led to the sword. Then another is produced, innocent, who has a large patronage network with him; well-spoken men are present with him. This one has good fortune: he is absolved.” In Rome, might made right, and power brought forth security from torture and death. The Church had none of that. Consider who the first Christians were: not great rabbis or high priests, not governors or wealthy merchants but fishermen, slaves, women, foreigners, tax collectors, and others who made up the lower social classes. They were accused of cannibalism and of rebellion against the state. They worshiped a convicted criminal brutally executed by the state, foolishness to the Gentiles and a scandal to the Jews. But not only did the Church survive; it thrived. How is it that our spiritual ancestors successfully proclaimed the Gospel even under threat of the coliseum, the courts, and the cross?
The early Church grew not because they had a position of political power to leverage for a large voting block or pride-of-place in the empire or because Saints Peter and Paul had massive fortunes with large, impressive estates, and certainly not because it offered some sort of life-hack for wellness (following Christ could be quite detrimental to one’s well-being) but because the Church lived a life so radically different from that of the brutal imperial authorities, the licentious pagan priests, and the wealthy merchants. The Church was marked instead by a care for the poor, the hungry, the enslaved, the imprisoned, the widow, the orphan, preaching the Gospel of liberation from slavery to sin and death, enacting the peaceable Kingdom of God where rich and poor, Greek and Jew, slave and free, male and female are joined together as members of one Body. In short, they lived as though the Risen Christ is Lord.
What drove Christians to live such radical lives? “Come and see.”
We, the Church, the Body of Christ, have been set free and given “as a light to the nations” that salvation from our Lord and God “may reach to the end of the earth.” And though we may be “deeply despised, abhorred by the nations” for proclaiming freedom to the captive and repentance of sin, we know that the our God will be faithful to the promise made to Isaiah: “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen” us through Christ.
Dear ones, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is beckoning us to follow him, to come and see the Kingdom erupting forth here and now, to be transformed, and to take this Good News out into the world, calling others to worship, to Come and see the Lamb of God, made present here for us.